You may have seen that the Trump administration recently withdrew federal protections for transgender students under Title IX. The protections, issued under guidance from the Obama administration to public schools and universities, interpreted Title IX to mean that students should be allowed to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Those guidelines have now been rescinded with nothing to replace them, leaving many public school students unsure of which restrooms they are welcome in.
This isn’t the first time in recent years that the rights of transgender people to use the restroom of their choice have been challenged. Last year, it was North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill” which legislated that in government buildings (including schools), individuals could only use restrooms that correspond to the sex identified on their birth certificate. Similar measures have been introduced in 13 other states, including Florida.
Now, if you’re like me, this has got you thinking, why the heck are we legislating bathroom usage in the first place?
I had always assumed that gendered restrooms in public places were there simply as a matter of custom and courtesy. That they were just a societal norm, not a matter of law.
However, the recent legal news made me curious, so I did some research and I found something very interesting. We have gendered restrooms because women used to not be allowed in public restrooms at all. All public restrooms were for men only. (We could talk for years about the obvious message this sent to women that they were not welcome in public spaces and should stay home. But let’s focus here.) The first law establishing gendered restrooms in the United States was enacted in Massachusetts in 1887 and required workplaces that employ women to provide restroom facilities for them. (What a novel idea.) That concept quickly took hold and by the 1920s these laws had become the norm, providing the seeds for the modern American restroom landscape.
So we have gendered restrooms because otherwise half the population wouldn’t have access to restrooms at all. Huh.
Read more about the fascinating history of public restrooms here.
But regardless of their origins, it seems we are destined to continue talking about restrooms for quite some time.
A federal court has issued a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of the North Carolina law, but it is still on the books and continues to be a legislative battleground. The state (and others considering similar laws) received major pushback from businesses, including many sports leagues who do not wish to do business in a state that mandates discrimination, exposing their employees and customers to that discrimination.
As for the recent development regarding Title IX, many school boards and universities (including FSU and Leon County Schools locally) have come out saying that they will continue to follow the Obama era guidelines and allow students to continue to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
It is clearly not an easy time to be trans in America. There have been seven murders of transgender women in this country already this year. (SEVEN. It is MARCH.)
But there is help. If you are a person in need of a safe public restroom or want to help someone who does, like so many other things in this modern world, there’s an app for that. Refuge Restrooms catalogs public places with gender-neutral or single stall restroom where trans or gender non-conforming people can (hopefully) feel safe. Popular review site Yelp has also jumped on the bandwagon and will show which businesses in their database offer gender-neutral restrooms.
If nothing else, I think we can all agree that everyone deserves to feel safe.